CONVOY (1978) — Peckinpah’s Trucker Disasterpiece

Release Details

Convoy is available now on Blu-ray from Kino Studio Classics.

“Based on the hit song” is not a recipe for success.

Loosely based on the hit song of the same name and intended to fit in with the C.B. radio craze and vehicular redneck movies of the era (think Burt Reynolds fare like White Lightning and Gator, or Hooper), Convoy is not only one of the strangest films in Peckinpah’s filmography, but one of the most singularly bizarre time capsules of the late 70s.

I guess at this point I should set the tone with a couple facts:
 1. Convoy is universally panned and derided.
 2. I f***ing love Convoy.

Both the song and film tell of a famed trucker known by the handle “Rubber Duck”, dodging “bears” and “smokeys” (cops) while attracting other truckers with colorful handles like “Pig Pen” to join him in a massive convoy, escalating into a huge ordeal. The song is great, but the inherent problem is that it simply doesn’t have enough of a plot to hang a feature film on. The film beefs things up by creating a villain, a crooked sheriff nicknamed Dirty Lyle (Ernest Borgnine) who antagonizes the truckers, sparking the fire that sets the film’s convoy event into motion. Musically, the song is reworked with different lyrics which not only better reflect the movie, but include the phrase “hauling ass” which probably couldn’t be played on the radio.

By the time he worked on Convoy, Sam Peckinpah had spent years as a functioning alcoholic, knocking back endless tumblers of hard liquor and churning out great films (and also The Killer Elite). But his nosedive into the world of hard drugs made him a huge liability on the disastrous set of Convoy. Listening to the interviews and commentaries on this Blu-ray disc, it’s clear that he was not in charge of his own faculties, much less this motion picture. Pretty much everyone involved — cast, crew, and commentary historians — has nothing positive to say about the production or the film that resulted.

But I didn’t know any of that the first time I watched this. I just grooved on how enjoyably weird this film is. The cast is led by a terrific collection of Peckinpah regulars — Kris Kristofferson as Rubber Duck, Ali McGraw as his companion Melissa, and Ernest Borgnine as Dirty Lyle. This great cast is dropped into an odd story that mixes Peckinpah’s Western sensibilities, southern fried road pictures, awkward social commentary, and a #1 radio hit into a nonsensical amalgam with some truly stunning imagery and cinematography. It’s a mess and I understand why so many people don’t like it, but don’t dare dismiss it.

Even though the mood on the set was a powder keg, what makes its way to the screen is not only solid but a lot of fun. The film has a couple of amazing stunts, only if you hear the truth they were actually accidents — a stunt car which missed its target and a truck that turned over speeding through a sharp turn. Peckinpah actually cameos in the film as a member of a camera crew, and Burt Young (Paulie from Rocky) drives a truck for “Paulie Hauling”. Despite the disastrous set, some fun was still had, and is reflected in the film. At times the film is pretty mean-spirited and many gags don’t quite land, but the overall effect is so free-wheeling and jovial that I think the tone is an immensely enjoyable one.

On rewatching Convoy, I noticed something new that gave me an even deeper appreciation for it, and the belief that someone on the set (Peckinpah, even?) knew what they were doing.

Please note, the next paragraph contains spoilers on how the film ends.

Rubber Duck, a peacemaking, bearded working man, becomes an avatar for social justice and representing the downtrodden. When he makes his final stand against the police, he drives his truck over a bridge into a hail of gunfire. His truck explodes and plummets into the water below. He’s believed dead, but at his wake, it’s revealed that he’s alive and hiding in the Jesus Freaks’ microbus as the convoy pulls away. Martyrdom. Burial. Resurrection. Appearance to Disciples. Ascension. Realizing that the film ends with a deliberate Christ figure allegory blew my mind and made me appreciate this film even more than before.

The Package

Convoy has been released on DVD before, but that thing is a worthless piece of garbage, one of the worst DVDs I’ve ever encountered. Released by “CheezyFlix”, it sported horrendous video quality and was vertically stretched to 16:9, not to mention it stuck the CheexyFlix logo onto opening shot of the film (not before the film, on it). The only way I could even watch this abomination was to rip it and re-encode it to the correct aspect ratio. If you happen to own this shiny plastic turd, throw it in the trash where it belongs and buy this beautiful new Blu-ray release from Kino Studio Classics that fixes all those problems.

Special Features and Extras

Unlike many Kino Studio Classics titles which are barebones, Convoy includes a very rich menu of extras. Aside from the commentary and vintage marketing stuff, these featurettes are all created by Peckinpah enthusiast Mike Siegel and his Europe-based El Dorado Productions.

Audio Commentary by film historians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, and Garner Simmons
 Because the hosts are film historians rather than cast or crew, this meaty and conversational commentary track forgoes typical making-of type discussion and launches into some deep criticism of the film and discussion of its many production woes, not the least of which was Peckinpah’s crippling drug addiction.

Passion & Poetry: Sam’s Trucker Movie (73:02)
 A film by Mike Siegel. This documentary alone is a compelling reason for any Peckinpah fan to pick up this disc. Goes deep into the film’s perceived failures and on-set difficulties. Lots of interviews with different cast and crew members, but most significantly EMI Executive Producer Michael Deeley, who oversaw the project.

Promoting Convoy (5:35)
 International gallery of posters, lobby cards, and ads.

Three Lost Scenes (5:47)
 Not exactly deleted scenes (they can’t be found), but a compilation of production stills and script pages covering some scenes which were cut: “The Hitchhiker”, “The Aftermath Of Alvarez”, and “The Governor of Texas”.

Injokes, Friends, and Cameos (5:59)
 A look at some of the film’s Easter eggs

More Production Stills (3:13)

Trucker Notes From Norway (3:13)
 Norwegian fan and truck enthusiast Anders Løfaldli discusses the film’s global popularity and the Rubber Duck’s rig.

Theatrical Trailer (3:47)
 This is one of the most weird and wonderful trailers you’ll ever see. It’s basically a music video of the entire song, set to clips of the film. The aspect ratio is messed up though, vertically stretched to 16:9. Here’s the corrected version:

US TV Spot (1:01)

US Radio Spot (3:16)

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 [Blu-ray] | [DVD]

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